Shoppers jostle for doorbusters last Black Thursday at Macy’s in Glendale, Calif. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

In recent years, you’ve no doubt noticed a change to the rhythm of the holiday shopping season. Big-box retailers are starting their major holiday sales not on Black Friday, but on Thanksgiving Day — and are often offering other seasonal deals days or even weeks earlier.  The fastest growing online shopping day of the season is Thanksgiving Day, meaning many digital shoppers are not waiting for the following Monday, so-called Cyber Monday, to kick off their spending.

Consulting firm Deloitte released survey data last week that helps put in perspective how quickly this change is taking place.  Deloitte asked respondents about how much they rely on these traditional kick-off events to get their shopping done. As you can see, compared to last year, fewer people count on these days to buy their gifts.

(Courtesy of Deloitte)

These changing attitudes toward Black Friday and Cyber Monday shouldn’t be interpreted as consumers cooling on holiday shopping altogether; In fact, 75 percent of shoppers told Deloitte they plan to spend more than they did last year. It’s simply a sign that these one-off deals aren’t quite the draw they used to be.

While it may initially sound like bad news for retailers that their big season no longer starts with a singular bang, there are actually advantages to a more gradual ramp-up to the season.  Physical stores often struggle with out-of-stock inventory during these major shopping events, which might leave customers turned off. If shoppers spread out their trips to the mall, brick-and-mortars may be able to more easily keep their shelves stocked, aisles clean and checkout lines short, and that might turn ultimately lift sales.  For Web retailers, it also might be easier to ship orders in a timely fashion when they are coming in a steady trickle instead of a concentrated deluge.

But the challenge for retailers could come in one of Deloitte’s other findings:  More shoppers say they will wait until later in the season to do the bulk of their shopping. Deloitte found that 44 percent of consumers plan to do the majority of their shopping in December and January, up from 37 percent in 2013. Meanwhile the share of shoppers who planned to do most of their shopping early — that is, in October or the beginning of November — shrank from 30 percent to 23 percent.  (The rest plan to do their big spending in late November.)

If more shoppers wait until the last-minute to buy their gifts, that could create a logistics headache for the retail industry.  It’s instructive to think back to 2013, when UPS and FedEx took heat for failing to deliver millions of packages in time for Christmas.  While some of that shortcoming was due to severe weather, analysts and experts have said that the bottleneck was also fueled by retailers not accurately estimating how many packages they’d be putting into the supply chain at the 11th hour.  After the 2013 delivery mess, large retailers have tried to work with the delivery companies to provide better and earlier package forecasts. So, hopefully that means they are ready for an uptick in last-minute shoppers. If not, some shoppers (and their loved ones) could end up disappointed on Christmas morning.

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